In the modern NBA, pace-and-space offenses are commonplace as teams continue to place increasing value on the three-point shot. Boston has succeeded in generating high quality opportunities within their pace-and-space system, due to their consistency in creating open looks and forcing mismatches. In large part, these opportunities exist due to the quasi five-out scheme the Celtics have implemented throughout the season.
A five-out scheme predicates ball movement and spacing, with each member of the offense operating outside of the three-point line. The Houston Rockets have adopted this style almost exclusively since trading Clint Capela, and have found regular success, but Boston has been doing it all year.
Utilizing their switchability and depth across the wings, the Celtics line-up on the perimeter and force mismatches off a simple screen.
Above, all of the Celtics take up a position on the perimeter with Kemba Walker as the ball-handler. Gordon Hayward comes off the strong side corner to screen for Walker, forcing the defensive switch he was hunting. Now being guarded by the smaller Aaron Holiday, Hayward cuts to the basket, sealing Holiday to provide a clear lane.
Boston’s most prominent strength when operating in a five-out scenario is its shooting ability from deep. As you can see in the above clip, every Pacer is reluctant to help off their man. Even after Hayward receives the ball in the paint, Indiana stays home on the shooters.
When running their five-out offensive scheme, the Celtics rely heavily on attacking out of the pick-and-roll and hand offs. Tatum has shown exponential growth as a ball-handler, providing the Celtics with further firepower on perimeter plays.
Watch how the play beings in the above clip. You can see the offense is still figuring itself out. However, once the play begins to unfold, all players re-locate to the outside. Enes Kanter’s screen causes the defensive big to show in an effort to force the ball out of Tatum’s hands. However, Tatum’s growth as a ball-handler leads him to navigate himself around the defense and finish at the rim.
Another critical component of operating in such a spaced-out system is a player’s ability to probe the defense by driving towards the nail. Defenses are forced to either backpedal or rotate, providing the space to get a shot off or an open man waiting to receive the ball in a catch-and-shoot position.
In this instance, the defense opts to backpedal. Having forced the ball out of Tatum’s hands following a double team, Jaylen Brown (who has faded to the break after setting the initial screen for Tatum) has oceans of room available to begin testing the defense.
Brown’s production as a jump shooter makes the above shot palatable. As Brown drives, there are four legitimate passing options available to him, all of which can put the ball on the floor or shoot off the catch.
Herein lies the importance of this offensive scheme for the Celtics. When operating a five-out, Boston can stretch the defense due to their ability to score from all three levels while also boasting a playmaker across every position.
Brad Stevens on the team's versatility come playoffs: "That's been our strength all season long. We'll have to pick up where we left on on offense and defense because we were in pretty shape when you look at the big picture."— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) July 15, 2020
The Celtics do not run the five-out scheme exclusively in the way teams like Houston do; instead, they utilize it when they feel it best suits their match ups. There are very few teams with the depth and skill level to produce on all three scoring levels, and fewer capable of hunting and punishing mismatches in such a meticulous way.
Brad Stevens has the luxury of sending his team out to operate a “five-out, but adjust on the fly, should he feel the unit requires a presence on the block.
It starts as a five-out, with Theis setting the screen, but as Brown drives, Theis gets downhill to seal the defense and provide an open lane for an easy bucket. Theis has made a living out of this play all season, earning praise for consistently providing his teammates with open looks at the rim.
The above clip is just another reminder of the team’s ability to read the defense and react. Unlike the rest of the NBA, the Celtics identity on offense isn’t as clear cut as some of the contenders with superstar players, but they operate a fluid motion offense predicated on taking whatever the defense provides.
With all the unpredictability surrounding the NBA at Disney World, facing a team who can change gears and systems in a heartbeat will not be easy, which is why the Celtics running their quasi five-out scheme may have an impact on who comes out of the East come playoff time.